Hostage rescue dampens prospect of cease-fire effort in Gaza war

*US President Joe Biden and Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The recent rescue of four hostages will likely complicate Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to broker a new cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that would secure the release of the remaining captives in Gaza, a senior administration official has told NBC News.

The Israeli military, along with two other units, carried out a special operation on Saturday at two different locations in Nuseirat in central Gaza to rescue four hostages being held by Hamas.

The operation, which included a heavy air and ground assault, marked Israel’s largest rescue operation since its war with Hamas began last October.

The army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in a complex special daytime operation in Nuseirat.

The freeing of the hostages has strengthened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to continue pursuing military operations, rather than agreeing to a cease-fire, the official told NBC News.
The Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar, who has held out despite intense pressure for a deal from Qatar and Egypt, could take an even harder line because of the high number of civilian Palestinian casualties from the Israeli rescue operation.

The senior official said some of the civilian victims died in the crossfire from Hamas fighters responding to the Israeli operation. A second official said Hamas is ultimately responsible for the Palestinian deaths by hiding hostages in densely populated areas.

He added that while the release of the four Israeli hostages is welcome news, it is not going to change the status quo because there is still a significant number of hostages remaining, including five Americans believed to be alive.

There are also three American hostages who were killed whose families are demanding the return of their remains.

Another complication for the diplomatic effort is Sunday’s resignation of the centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet, retired General Benny Gantz.

In resigning, Gantz accused Netanyahu of mismanaging the war and refusing to agree on what will happen to Gaza after the hostilities end. The Biden administration had tried to persuade Gantz not to quit because his absence will only strengthen Netanyahu’s ties to the far-right members of his coalition.

On his return to the region Monday — his eighth since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — aides say Blinken will also focus on the desperate need to get more aid into Gaza. Israel closed access to the Rafah crossing on May 6 before it launched a new round of military operations there, making aid deliveries far too dangerous.

Egypt, Israel’s oldest Arab ally, has also been protesting against Israel’s military operations in a border area between the two countries known as the Philadelphi Corridor. All that will be part of Blinken’s agenda when he sees Egypt’s President al-Sisi Monday before going to Israel later in the day.

For the last six months, the secretary of state has been working intensively on a so-called day after plan for Israel to eventually withdraw from Gaza and turn security over to a reformed Palestinian authority, with Arab leaders promising to then help finance Gaza’s post-war reconstruction.

But with both sides digging in against a cease-fire agreement, and outcries over the horrific death toll from this weekend’s Israeli-Hamas firefight, the chances of reaching a deal anytime soon may be fading.

Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said it is “hard to say” if the recent Israeli operation to rescue four hostages in Gaza will influence ongoing cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

The operation, which the Gaza Healthy Ministry claimed left more than 274 Palestinians dead, came just over a week since President Biden announced an Israeli-proposed cease-fire and hostage release deal aimed at ending the war.

When asked on ABC News’s “This Week” if the operation or similar operations affect cease-fire negotiations, Sullivan said, “It’s really hard to say right now.”

“It’s hard to say how Hamas will process this particular operation and what it will do to its determination about whether it will say yes or not,” he added.

“We have not gotten a formal answer from Hamas at this time. We’re waiting for them to communicate to Qatar and Egypt, two of the mediators involved in the hostage negotiations. “

While Gaza health officials approximated the death toll to be at least 274 killed and nearly 700 others wounded in the Saturday mission, the Israeli military estimated fewer than 100 casualties.

Sullivan declined to confirm either party’s numbers.

“Well, of course, the Israel Defense Forces have put out one number, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has put out another number. We’re looking into it,” Sullivan said. “It will take some time for us to make any kind of determination. And we may never be able to definitively determine it.”

“Civilians were killed. And that is tragic. It is heartbreaking. I’ve said before that the Palestinian people are going through hell in this war,” he added.

“They’re caught in the crossfire. Hamas hides among civilian infrastructure, hides underground, and puts the Palestinian people in harm’s way. And this whole thing, this whole tragedy could be over, all the hostages could be home.”

The current cease-fire proposal under consideration includes a three-part road map to end the fighting and release the remaining hostages.

Sullivan, speaking on several of the Sunday morning shows, repeatedly called on Hamas to respond to the proposal.

Last week, the leaders of 18 countries with citizens held as hostages issued a joint statement urging Hamas and Israel to agree to the cease-fire proposal.

“There is no time to lose. We call on Hamas to close this agreement, that Israel is ready to move forward with, and begin the process of releasing our citizens,” the statement read.

Israel’s war with Hamas has raged on for more than eight months since the U.S.-designated terrorist organization launched a surprise assault on southern Israel, during which the group killed more than 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza has since killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, per the local health ministry.

With NBC News, The Hill reports